Tuesday, December 22, 2009

THE INVISIBLE BOY

Remember when you were a kid, and you had to sit at the “kids' table” during holiday and family dinners? The grown-ups gathered around a beautifully decorated, long and elaborate feast, while the kids sat on benches and cushions at a wobbly card table. I remember trying to conjure a reason to interrupt my mom's dinner, just so I could visit the big-people table for a moment. Perhaps I could hear a snippet of their conversation, get some adult “dirt” on family news. I complained of tummy aches, cold mashed potatoes, and a kick in the shin from Cousin Mark. All were equally ineffective excuses, winning only chastising frowns and quick directives back to the kids' table.

It was Christmas at the Andrews' house last night. We were celebrating with both daughters, our son-in-law to-be and my father-in-law. But guess what? No children's table. Nope. No ankle-biters in the family at this point. Perhaps in a few years we'll have a couple knee-nibblers or curtain-climbers to join the Andrews' tribe, but until that happy day we'll just have to settle for boring adult conversation.

In today's Scripture, I felt a little like we were listening in on the adult conversation between God and Abraham. Poor Isaac is sitting at the kid's table – or more accurately, lying on top of it, about to be sacrificed – while God speaks only to Abraham. Or is there more to this story?

Gen. 22:9-10 – “When [Abraham and Isaac] reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”
  • Isaac could have run (surely, no matter what his age, this boy was faster than his 100+ year-old father). He could have fought or screamed; but we don't get that impression, do we? For whatever reason, this boy (or young man), who understands sacrifice (Gen. 22:7), chose to suffer silently while his father was tested by El Shaddai. Sometimes those who watch their loved ones being tested, suffer just as painfully alongside them.
Gen. 22:11-12 – “But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' he said. 'Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.'” (emphasis added)
  • I thought God was testing Abraham's FAITH, but the angel says this sacrifice proves his FEAR of God. Now, let's think about this. Whose FEAR of God was REALLY heightened in this process – the one with the knife or the one on the altar? (Yes, the Hebrew word here is literally “fear” or “reverence.”)
Gen. 22:13-14 – “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'”
  • Abraham wasn't the only one that saw the ram – Isaac saw that it was the LORD who provided the sacrifice for the burnt offering…just as his father had promised (Gen. 22:8). Abraham definitely proved his faith, but Isaac's faith was just as certainly being built.
Gen. 22:15-19 – “The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.' Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.”
  • God had already promised all this to Abraham and his descendants without any action on Abraham’s part (Gen. 15). So why did God say THIS act of obedience would bring to pass the Covenant Promise? Hmmmm, perhaps because God knew the kids' table was listening? Isaac was hearing the Promise resound from heaven for the first time, and it was essential that Isaac and HIS descendants understand that obedience was necessary to remain in the Promised Land (Deut. 30).
Lord, I sometimes think lessons are just for me; but I, too, am changed while watching those I love learn hard lessons. Teach me to be attentive to the lessons You have for me as You're teaching those around me. And help me respond graciously, when the lessons You teach others cause me pain – to know the right moments for words and for silence.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FAITH OR DENIAL

I think I was about ten years-old when I heard a preacher quote Jesus' words in John 16:23, “…my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…” I remember it clearly because I had a toothache on this particular Sunday morning, and to my third-grade ears, it sounded as if the pastor was saying if I believed hard enough, God would heal me. This was good news. I hated the dentist, and the thought of my first cavity terrified me. All the more reason to drum-up a little extra faith! That night, I prayed extra hard at bedtime and fully expected to wake up the next morning with a brand new mouth. No-go. After a fitful night of sleep, my tooth ached worse the next morning, but I wouldn't let my mom call the dentist. With tear-filled eyes, I said, “I'm believing as hard as I can that God will heal my tooth!” Ugh. As a mom, thirty-plus years later, I feel sorry for my mother in that situation. How do you look into pain-filled, faith-filled baby-blue eyes and explain the deep theological issues of faith and healing and God's sovereignty? She did what any responsible parent would do…she let me stay home from school with a toothache and come to my senses! By the end of that painful day, I didn't care if the dentist stuck a syringe or a drill or a jack-hammer in my mouth. I just wanted my tooth fixed! But I remembered the preacher's other advice, “Maintain your positive confession of faith.” Hoping this was the magic ingredient I'd been missing, I proclaimed loudly all the way to the dentist, “I don't have a cavity! I don't have a cavity!” In fact, as the dentist approached with the drill in his hand, I screamed, “I don't have a cavity!” Guess what? I had a cavity the size of Texas (Okay, I didn't look quite as bad as the guy in the picture)! Faith is NOT denial. But sometimes they look the same.

Gen. 22:1-2 – “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am,' he replied. Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'” (emphasis added)
  • Isaac was not Abraham's only son. Ishmael was Abraham's firstborn son through Sarah's maidservant, Hagar. Was God in denial? Nooooo. But remember how much Abraham cared for Ishmael, asking that his firstborn be the Covenant recipient even after God promised a son to Sarah in her old age (Gen. 17:18)? Remember that Abraham was forced to reject Ishmael because of Isaac. In essence, God asks Abraham – by faith – to deny his first son exists and love his “only” son, Isaac. I believe Mt. Moriah was indeed the pinnacle of Abraham's sacrifice, but his sacrifice started with Ishmael and continued as he grew to love Isaac, the son God chose for him.
Gen. 22:3-5 – “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'” (emphasis added)
  • Notice Abraham didn't call a camp meeting to announce his decision, nor did he ask the boy's mother for her opinion or blessing. He was quietly obedient to his conviction. And when they arrived at the foot of the mountain, he gave little explanation to his servants. He declared that BOTH he and the boy would return from their worship on the mountain, which tells us that Abraham had full confidence that somehow God would restore the boy's life before he had to answer to Sarah!
Gen. 22:6-7 – “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, 'Father?' 'Yes, my son?' Abraham replied. 'The fire and wood are here,' Isaac said, 'but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'”
  • First, I think it's hilarious that Abraham made Isaac carry the wood, while he carried the fire. Did he hope God would spontaneously combust the boy, so he wouldn't have parent guilt? Don't we all hope God will let us take the easy way out of our spiritual lessons? But Abraham had obviously taught Isaac a deep understanding of the materials and meanings of God's system of sacrifice. Bravo, Father Abraham!
Gen. 22:8 – “Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together.”
  • Was Abraham's answer to Isaac faith or denial? To a believer, his words are faith. To an unbeliever, they're denial…until they become reality (Gen. 22:13). With his son's wide, questioning eyes turned upon him, Abraham pulled off the miraculous…HE MADE A STATEMENT OF FAITH THAT ALLOWED ROOM FOR GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY. No matter what little lamb God provided, Isaac would know his father didn't lie to him, God didn't fail, and faith would sustain them both.
Lord, teach me the art of faith statements – answers to questions that give You honor without tying Your hands to my design. Teach me the art of faith living – making daily choices, attitudes, conversations that open opportunities for You to work in faith; not living in denial of reality.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TRICKY RELATIONSHIPS

I have this incredible knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person in the wrong way. In my younger years, I was REALLY clueless. When Roy started seminary, we'd lived in our new campus apartment less than a week, when I managed to offend both the seminary president and academic dean. During our initial interview with the president, I looked around his office, spied his bookshelves and made the off-handed remark that I'd had a dream that my husband would one day work in an office having those exact bookshelves. After both the president and my husband looked at me like I was the Ghost Whisperer, we were quickly ushered out.

I wanted to be a supportive wife, so I began checking the academic catalog for a course I might take alongside my hubby. Confounded at the absence of a course on prayer, I hurried off a letter to the academic dean. “I'm certain this is simply an oversight,” I wrote. “Since a seminary's purpose is to train pastors, counselors and teachers, I would think the most basic form of communion with God would be a priority in the course offerings.” Okay, so tact and diplomacy wasn't my strong-suit. I hadn't yet realized the intricate inter-weavings of my remarks with my husband's reputation. In a small pond, every splash causes many ripples, and those ripples flow through a myriad of relationships. Seminary became not only a wonderful training ground for my husband's pastoral vocation, but also an obstacle course for my unruly tongue. It started my advanced training on tricky relationships. I'm happy to report that today, the seminary president and academic dean are dear friends, which proves we serve a truly mighty God! When Abraham found himself in the presence of the Philistine's head-honcho, he was much more adept than me at tricky relationships…

Gen. 21:22-23 – “At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, 'God is with you in everything you do. Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you.'” (emphasis added)
  • Do you think Abimelech and Phicol schlepped across the Negev by themselves? Probably not. It's a tricky relationship when a king shows up with his commander (and probably a sizable military escort), “asking” you to take an oath. Notice that Abimelech acknowledged God's blessing on Abraham before he asked two things of him: 1) vow not to deal falsely with him or descendants, and 2) show the SAME kindness that he'd shown Abraham. Did Abe stop listening at the compliment, or did he measure each word of the king? It's easy to analyze each word of Abimelech's proposal 4,000 years later, but when the pressure is on, how well do we listen to the details in an intimidating situation?
Gen. 21:24-26 – “Abraham said, 'I swear it.' Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech's servants had seized. But Abimelech said, 'I don't know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.'”
  • Perhaps Abraham took the oath so readily because it's easy to swear the SAME kindness to one who hasn't been kind! Is it just me, or does Abimelech's reply sound like a load of hooey? At this point, Abraham had the choice to accuse the king or move forward in resolving the problem. Which would you choose? Are you an accuser or a resolver?
Gen. 21:27-31 – “So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty. Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, and Abimelech asked Abraham, 'What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?' He replied, 'Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.' So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.” (emphasis added)
  • Abraham humbly offers his sheep and cattle in a treaty agreement. Seems unfair, huh? Is he a doormat, bowing to the powerful King of the Philistines? No. His offering has purpose – and a sting. Abraham's treaty offering is three things: 1) meaningful, 2) memorable, and 3) uncomfortable. It's meaningful because it makes Abimelech ask the question. It's memorable because those silly sheep and cattle will have to be herded on the return trip. And it's uncomfortable because Abraham gets the final word, "I dug this well." Abraham left the king's dignity intact, while at the same time making his point.
Gen. 21:32-34 – “After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.”
  • Abraham had just sworn an oath binding himself and his descendants to a powerful king, and he‟d won water rights in an arid land in the process. Planting a tree that grows into much-needed shade is a good way to celebrate the successful navigation of a tricky relationship. Calling on the LORD – the God beyond time and space – is an even better idea.
Lord, remind me to celebrate the victories and to establish reminders of Your faithfulness. I want to call on You – my Eternal God – on the best of days as well as the worst of days. Your provision, Your wisdom, Your presence gives me reason to shout for joy everyday! Let it be so!

Monday, November 30, 2009

HURT BY HOLINESS, SAVED BY THE SPIRIT

Many people – dare I even say MOST – feel they've been wronged by at least one of the following: God, the Church or an over-zealous Christian. A perfect, infinite God works His unfathomable plan through imperfect people. Somebody's bound to get hurt, right? But the Safety Net is the “perfect, infinite God” part. Here's an example. When I was a teenager, my mom prayed and believed that the Lord would heal her near-sighted eyes. Standing on faith, she took off her glasses and peered at the eye chart at the DMV – no go. She lost her driver's license and spent several years listening to her smart-mouthed, rebellious daughter taunt her about trusting a God, who failed to answer prayer. Yep, each time my mom needed a chauffer or an errand-girl, I'd roll my eyes and mumble complaints, while she faithfully trusted the Lord to fulfill a promise she felt certain was hers. During these difficult years, my parents tried desperately to fend off the tidal wave of sin that threatened to drown me. With the heightened emotions of a teenager, I interpreted their attempts to draw me to holiness as violations of my freedom. Every time they used “God” or “the Bible” as a reason I couldn't do something, my anger toward them and God intensified.

One weekend I came home from college, and my mom asked that I drive her to the DMV for another attempt to read the eye chart. I parked the car but left the motor running, certain Mom's eyes would see no better this time than they had the hundred other times she'd looked at line #4. Minutes passed, and my patience waned until I looked up to find my mother standing with a DMV official. Her face was beaming, and she didn't need to say it…but she did. “The Lord healed my eyes, honey. Could you step out of the car, so I can take my driving test with the instructor now?” Years of cynicism balled up in my throat. The Spirit rescued my mom that day from my hurtful darts, and He began the slow chiseling of my stony heart. Eventually, God shattered my hard heart completely and rebuilt it with moldable flesh. I became thankful for the holiness my mom lived out before me and finally asked her forgiveness. Sometimes only God can heal the damage we inflict AND experience in the name of holiness. Today, my mom and I share an intimate friendship - trusting enough to tandem parasail on her 74th birthday!

Gen. 21:10 – “[Sarah] said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'”
Gen. 21:11-13 – “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, 'Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.'”
  • Does God sound uncaring to you? Should the LORD have let Ishmael remain in camp with Abraham? Remember that God is all-knowing and then consider the rivalry, bloodshed and tragedy that may have been averted because Sarah made this unthinkable demand on Abraham. Sometimes we must simply rely on our unwavering trust in God's infinite knowledge and goodness.
Gen. 21:14-16 – “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, 'I cannot watch the boy die.' And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.”
  • A parent‟s provision or a human‟s intellect can only provide so long. Eventually, we run out of answers and strength, and circumstances beyond our control overwhelm us. The real test begins when human provision is gone. How do we respond then? Anger? Despair? Or humble petition to the only One who can help?
Gen. 21:17-18 – “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.'”
  • Notice that the LORD spoke to Hagar – the woman – not to Ishmael, the receiver of the blessing. Again, God shows immeasurable grace to the lowly of this culture in order to mend her broken heart. More than likely, this was the first time Hagar had heard of God's promised blessing for her son. Can you imagine the shock and relief of this frightened mama?
Gen. 21:19-21 – “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.”
  • God opened Hagar's eyes to a well that was already there. God honed skills Ishmael already had, making the boy a great archer. And then God provided Ishmael a wife from Egypt, his mother's homeland – probably a family Hagar already knew. So often the Spirit provides our salvation from sources already in front of us – sources we couldn't see until we've been hurt by holiness.
Lord, it's hard to take a stand for holiness, when it hurts someone. It's hard to bear the pain of holiness and remain teachable and loving. Help me to trust You enough to obey You – even when it hurts…me and others. Secure my grip in Your hand. Lead me all the way down the path to the end of human answers, where I find the salvation of Your Spirit for every hurt.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ALL ABOUT WHO?

I received a phone call, the man's voice on the other end asking for a donation to his charitable foundation. I very politely said, “I don't think we're going to give this year, but…” The voice replied, “Thank you anyway, ma'am. We never want to argue or press after someone says 'no.'” And then, before I could tell him to keep us on the list for next year, I heard Click. Well! I started to get my pajamas all in a bunch because this telemarketer hung up on ME – but I paused at a sobering thought. Maybe it wasn't about me at all. Maybe he'd been hearing Click all morning, and I was his first opportunity to win the hang-up race. You see, all too often I forget it's not all about me. I usually think the slow car in front of me is just driving like that to make ME late for MY appointment. Or the grocery line purposely has a price check or spill just to annoy ME. Perhaps you're on the other side of the battle, and you have friends or family members that seem to think the world revolves around THEM. Each time you're together, all they talk about are THEIR issues, THEIR problems, THEIR joys and sorrows. I think the woman in the picture illustrates pretty well what so many people do with their own words - love themselves. Only a few country music songs capture my heart, but Toby Keith's, “I Wanna Talk About Me,” is one of my favorites. Here's the chorus:
I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my, me, my,
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, you, usually;
but occasionally I wanna talk about meeeeee!
I wonder if Abraham would have sung Toby Keith‟s song to his wife Sarah? This woman seems pretty egocentric, but I suppose a woman experiencing her first pregnancy at ninety years old deserves a little attention…

Gen. 21:1-5 – “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” (emphasis added)
  • Notice that the author of Genesis uniquely worded the realization of God's promise. First, came God's gracious fulfillment to Sarah, and then to Abraham. Imagine the significance of crediting Sarah before Abraham in a culture that most women were esteemed barely more than slaves or livestock. Yet God gives her significance in spite of culture – because God was GRACIOUS, not because Sarah deserved it.
Gen. 21:6-7 – “Sarah said, 'God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.' And she added, 'Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.'”
  • Sarah should have stopped talking after that first sentence because when “she added,” then she subtracted. In claiming that SHE bore Abraham a child when HE was old, Sarah stole a little of her husband's dignity and a portion of God's glory. She began well by praising God but ended poorly by drawing attention to herself.
Gen. 21:8-10 – “The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'” (emphasis added)
  • You'll find Sarah's picture in your local post office as one of the ten most-wanted party killers. Yikes! A life continually focused inward tends to randomly strike out at others. Contentious Sarai still lurked beneath God's gracious re-formation of princess Sarah, and the sin of unforgiveness was feeding her self-centered life.
Lord, living in a self-focused world is fertile ground for sin to grow into ugly weeds that choke out any attempt to serve others and praise You. I too often joke about my self-centeredness, but I need to take serious steps toward an outward-focused life. Let my heart be softened toward others, living a life of grace and humility.

Monday, November 16, 2009

WHEN A PARENT STEPS IN

If parents tried to referee every squabble between their children, hospitals across the country would need to double their psych wards and add more padded rooms. From toddlers to teens to tumultuous adults, we watch from afar as our kids fuss and feud until that moment when they cross the line. Every parent has a limit. Roy and I had a pretty low tolerance for arguing, but when a real fight broke out between our girls…we waited for violence or profanity before stepping in. Now, when they were toddlers, violence was a little slap, and profanity was, “Shut up!” The picture above raises the question...do our kids ever really grow up? As teens and tumultuous adults, we extended the meaning of “violence and profanity” to include: anything that causes harm – physical, emotional or spiritual.

Just days before writing this, as the Lord was massaging the message into my heart, our older daughter visited a new church with Roy and me. We sat behind a single father with his two young daughters. The girls were about four and six years old, and when their dad was called out of the service for a few moments, the girls immediately began to squabble. The younger girl hit the older (not too hard), and the older responded the same. The younger gave an angry face and the older dissolved into tears. I saw Trina, watching them intently, and wondered what she was thinking. She elbowed me and giggled – no doubt remembering those days with her sister. Or maybe she wanted me to DO SOMETHING. I thought about stepping in, but no real violence had been committed, and so far no profanity. Then I wondered how often our Heavenly Father watches His children mess up and mess around, all the while holding back until we cross the line. Well, in today‟s Scripture, one of God‟s children made a choice that could have damaged God‟s ultimate plan, and that crossed the line. So God stepped in.

Gen. 20:1-2 – “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, 'She is my sister.' Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.”
  • Isn't this eerily, awfully similar to Abraham's earlier sin in Egypt, when he lied to Pharaoh and said Sarah (Gen. 12:13) was his sister? But don't get caught up in the theology. Get caught up in the moment. El-Shaddai promised Sarah would bear Abraham a son – within a year. Abraham lied to save his life, and Sarah is taken to another man‟s harem. You're Abraham. Can you say, “Uh-Oh!” God needed to step in – not because Abraham deserved it, but because God purposed it. Abe messed up – again.
Gen. 20:3-7 – “But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.' Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, 'Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, “She is my sister,” and didn't she also say, “He is my brother”? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.' Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.'”
  • Notice that God's parental safety net extended both to the chosen (Abraham) and the “unchosen” (Abimelech). There is no indication that Abimelech had recognized El-Shaddai before this moment, yet God extended mercy to him and protected Abimelech from doing a detrimental thing.
Gen. 20:8-13 – “Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, 'What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.' And Abimelech asked Abraham, 'What was your reason for doing this?' Abraham replied, 'I said to myself, "There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife." Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, “This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, 'He is my brother.'”'”
  • Can you see the squabbling children – Abim and Abe? Instead of obeying God and talking to Abraham right away, Abimelech calls in his friends for their opinions. Then, he publicly accuses Abraham, who makes excuses and justifies his sin instead of owning his deceit. If God could get a heavenly headache, this might do it.
Gen. 20:14-16 – “Then Abimelech brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, 'My land is before you; live wherever you like.' To Sarah he said, 'I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.'”
  • God moved in Abimelech's heart to: 1) let Abraham remain in the Land (Abimelech had no idea) God had promised to give his descendants; 2) add to Abraham's wealth; and 3) honor Sarah (who was ignored in Egypt's restitution).
Gen. 20:17-18 – “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah.”
  • God moved in Abraham's heart to pray for the man who had stolen his sister/wife, and in doing so Abraham saw God's hand not only work on his behalf but through his prayers. Abimelech may not have fully understood why the wombs in his household were closed, but Abraham most certainly knew. Imagine God's power now evident in Abraham's mind – to close wombs…and to open them.
Lord, You can turn even our spiritual failures into amazing lessons and triumphs. My foolish sins and/or mistakes are never beyond Your ability to redeem. Give me wisdom to know when I am rationalizing a sin, calling it a mistake or less. Give me the courage to confess and repent. Soften my heart; break my pride; preserve Your plan.

Monday, November 09, 2009

RIPPLES OF RESIDENCY

Childhood is shaped by many factors, but the places of residency and the people we encounter in those places echo throughout our lives like the ripples after a stone is thrown into a pond. When Roy graduated from seminary, our fervent prayer included a ministry position in a place our daughters could call “home.” A place where they could feel safe and accepted. As you can imagine, the odds of a pastor‟s family remaining in one location for the duration of his children's school-aged years are about the same as a polar bear‟s vacation in Hawaii. Still, we prayed. And God provided Nappanee, Indiana. During our fourteen years in that quaint little community, we served two churches – one five minutes from our home, the other twenty-five minutes away. Both congregations were filled with loving people, who shared the vision for our daughters' formative growing-up years. Pictured at left are folks from both of our churches, who helped load our moving trucks, when the Lord called us to leave Nappanee in 2007. We know now more than ever, it's not just the PLACE that helps us raise our kids. It's the PEOPLE that impact our children's lives as well.

Nappanee was surrounded by Amish farms, and many of the Amish children attended public school until they entered the factory workforce after completing eighth grade. Much to our girls' dismay, the Amish children often excelled in reading. “Of course they win the reading contests,” our girls would often complain. “They don't have a TV or computer!” Emily still turns crimson when I mention "Linda," an Amish girl, who won all the “Book-It” contests in her elementary classes.

But it wasn't just the PLACE or the PEOPLE responsible for building our daughters' godly character. Ultimately that duty – that privilege – fell to us, their parents. As I read the Scripture for today's devotional, I was deeply saddened for Job's daughters. Yes, they sinned. But I believe it was their father, who committed the greater sin of omission.

Gen. 19:30 – “Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.” (emphasis added)
  • Lot is standing in the middle of this little town with a pillar of salt wife and his two daughters. Why is he suddenly is SO AFRAID that he decides it‟s better to live in a cave after all? Why wasn‟t he sufficiently when God first instructed Lot to go to the mountains? Perhaps Job is like so many of us and requires a “bulldozer” of circumstances to get his full attention.
Gen. 19:31 – “One day the older daughter said to the younger, „Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth.‟” (emphasis added)
  • After we recover from the shock of this daughter‟s repulsive thought, notice that the intimate act of marriage is no more than just a “custom all over the earth.” There seems to be no recognition of godly intent or intimacy, no inkling that Uncle Abraham‟s teachings have made their way past the gateway of Lot‟s mind to his daughters.
Gen. 19:32-33 – “„Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.‟ That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
  • Consider the sordid nest of sin these verses represent. Who do you believe is responsible before God for which wrong act? Lot became drunk. But what about his neglect of godly training for his daughters? Where should the line be drawn between the daughters‟ choice and their ignorance? Thankfully, you and I will never judge Lot or his daughters. We judge only our own actions. Am I doing all I can to inform, model, and train those in my household, in my church, in my community about the love of Jesus Christ?
Gen. 19:34-35 – “The next day the older daughter said to the younger, „Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.‟ So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.”
  • Sin grows and multiplies, when there is no foundation of conscience laid for checks and balances.
Gen. 19:36-38 – “So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.” (emphasis added)
  • Moab sounds like the Hebrew for from father, and Ben-Ammi sounds like the Hebrew for son of my people. Lot‟s daughters chose the names of their sons, and the names left no doubt of incest. Think about the chain of Lot‟s decisions that led to this legacy. Lot chose the beautiful plain of Jordan, when Abraham said they needed to separate their wealth. Lot delighted in city life, associated with sinful men, and became a judge at the city gate. He argued with God‟s mercy at Sodom, but at the last minute chose to obey out of fear and live in a mountain cave. Imagine Lot‟s life through his daughters‟ watchful eyes.
Lord, remind me that I‟m being watched. My children and the children of others are learning from my choices, my words and my actions. Not just children, but those young in the faith are also watching and learning from those of us who have walked with You for many years. Father, teach me to hold up each decision, study it, examine it in the Light of Your wisdom…and grace.

Monday, November 02, 2009

THE GREAT DEBATER

I think I missed my calling. I should have been a genetic scientist, searching out the great mysteries of why people do what they do. (Other than loathing science, math and philosophy, I could have been fabulous, right?) What makes a person argue incessantly? Why do some people say the sky is turquoise, when others say it’s blue – just to start a quarrel? And why are there others like me, who would rather swallow a porcupine than debate an issue? If it’s a category five hurricane, and you say the sky is blue, I’ll search the heavens to find the faintest shade of agreeable sapphire. Why? Well, if I was a genetic scientist, maybe I could tell you; but alas, I can only say I THINK it’s innate – wired in at birth. My mom’s dad was a prosecuting attorney. My mom got the debate gene and passed every chromosome to my argumentative brother. I got zilch, nada. However, I married a debater, and his questioning gene hit our firstborn with whirlwind force. From colic as a newborn to refusing naps as a toddler, Trina was born to argue. But she was so darn cute while doing it! At age three, we would tell her a bedtime story and tuck her in for the night. Ten minutes later, she’d peek around the living room doorway. “Just one more question,” she would say, holding up her chubby index finger. For those who love a debate, there’s always just one more question, one more good reason their way makes more sense. So it was with Lot, the great debater…

Gen. 19:1-3 – “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. ‘My lords,’ he said, ‘please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.’ ‘No,’ they answered, ‘we will spend the night in the square.’ But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.” (emphasis added)

  • Notice that Lot’s strong insistence prodded the angels to stay in his home, but from his first greeting to the “bread without yeast,” Lot’s intention was to move God’s angels out of his city quickly. His first response to God’s visitation was his own hurried, unyielding agenda. Angels spoke. Lot argued.

Gen. 19:4-11 – “Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’ Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, ‘No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.’ ‘Get out of our way,’ they replied. And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them.’ They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.”

  • Lot didn’t just argue with God; he argued with everyone – sometimes with good reason. When evil knocks on your door, it’s good to argue. Right? But when our arguments leave no honorable outcomes and deteriorate to deplorable solutions, it’s time to turn to God for help. Lot didn’t. Still, God in his mercy intervened.

Gen. 19:12-14 – “The two men said to Lot, ‘Do you have anyone else here--sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.’ So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, ‘Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!’ But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.”

  • The first tragedy is that his sons-in-law were in the Sodomite mob outside the door. The second tragedy is that their pathologically debating father-in-law, Lot, couldn’t convince them he was serious about God’s judgment. Folks give little respect to someone with many words.

Gen. 19:15-17 – “With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.’ When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, ‘Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!’” (emphasis added)

  • Hesitation is an argument, when we know God’s clear direction.

Gen. 19:18-26 – “But Lot said to them, ‘No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can't flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I'll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it--it is very small, isn't it? Then my life will be spared.’ He said to him, ‘Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.’ (That is why the town was called Zoar. By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah--from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities--and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (emphasis added)

  • Though God sometimes allows us to argue and gives us the desire of our hearts, that questioning and rebellious spirit can seep into the hearts of others around us and cause them to stumble.

Gen. 19:27-29 – “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

  • Unless God revealed more to Abraham than Scripture records, he didn’t know at this point that Lot had been rescued from Sodom. He would have assumed that God couldn’t find ten righteous people, and his nephew’s family was destroyed with the city. But God’s mercy was at work even when Abraham couldn’t see it, and no amount of arguing could thwart or improve God’s perfect plan.
Lord, why would I presume to argue with an all-knowing God? What makes me believe I could have a clearer answer, fuller knowledge, or a better way? And when circumstances cast a dark shadow on Your righteousness, strengthen my faith to whole-heartedly trust Your love, Your mercy, and Your truth.

Monday, October 26, 2009

MAKING THE MOST OF LIMITED MOMENTS

When I grew up, left home and had children, I somehow imagined that my parents’ life became wholly and completely devoted to me and my family. Why would I think that? Well, (besides the fact that I’m the baby of the family and totally self-centered) it’s because that’s the way my folks made us feel – like the center of their world – every time we went to their house. Roy and I would rumble through the door with car seats, toys and screaming children. My parents would meet us with wide smiles and waiting arms as if they had nothing to do but wait on our arrival. During our visit, they cooed over the kids, listened to our grousing and offered advice…when asked. Not once do I remember feeling like a burden in my parents’ home, and not until our daughters were grown and gone did I realize what a precious and purposeful act of love my parents offered us. By George, they did have a life! They just put it on hold to make the most of the limited moments with their kids and grandkids. Now, I get to make that same choice…with my children, husband, friends…and with my God. Making the most of limited moments is a choice I make each day.

Gen. 18:16 – “When the men [the LORD] got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way.”
  • Abraham could have stood and said his good-bye. Instead, he walked along with the LORD, wanting to squeeze every sweet moment out of every second they had together.

Gen. 18:17-19 – “Then the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’”

  • God divulged His future plans to a man who was willing to follow Him, and God revealed his warning to a man who would influence nations toward obedience. No amount of Abraham’s toiling and spinning could reap the harvest of blessing he gained from time spent in God’s presence.

Gen. 18:20-21 – “Then the LORD said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’”

  • Of course, God knew S & G’s sin, but He wanted to reveal Himself to Abraham, wanted this man to understand His fairness. So God let Abraham see it unfold, though God already knew the end result.

Gen. 18:22-25 – “The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’” (emphasis added)

  • Note the emphasized phrases. Picture Abraham REMAIN STANDING and then APPROACH the LORD! Look at the fervent remarks and the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence. I think Abraham sort of got in God’s face here, maybe even a little accusation in his tone. Do you think Abraham would have been this bold before he spent this much time in God’s presence? Appreciate the familiarity that has grown in order for Abraham to be this transparent with his Almighty God.

Gen. 18:26-32 – “The LORD said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’ Then Abraham spoke up again: ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?’ ‘If I find forty-five there,’ he said, ‘I will not destroy it.’ Once again he spoke to him, ‘What if only forty are found there?’ He said, ‘For the sake of forty, I will not do it.’ Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?’ He answered, ‘I will not do it if I find thirty there.’ Abraham said, ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?’ He said, ‘For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.’ Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’”

  • God’s offers steady answers of justice and mercy to Abraham’s ever-pressing nearness.

Gen. 18:33 – “When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.”

  • When the LORD was done, He left. God controls His visitations, but Abraham’s job was the same as ours today – to remain alert for opportunities to be near God, to listen for that still, small voice and engage Him in conversation when the occasion presents itself.

Lord, to know that Your Holy Spirit lives inside every believer is a warm comfort on the days I don’t FEEL Your presence. To know Your Word says You will NEVER leave me gives me great hope that I can walk in victory through the darkest times. But my greatest challenge is to make the MOST of those limited moments I carve out of my day, when it’s just You and me. Speak to me there. Teach me new things from Your Word. Help me to break down walls of resistance that have separated us in the past. Give me a renewed passion for You. Let it be so, Lord, with us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

THE CADENCE OF HEAVEN MEETS THE CLATTER OF EARTH

Well, that title is certainly a mouthful, and most of us live lives with our “plates” full. My husband and I returned from a recent visit with our daughter, Emily, and her fiancĂ© in Ohio. She’s a busy college student, and we decided to keep up with her crazy schedule only one day of our three-day visit. The first day, she was merciful and let us rest. Following our red-eye flight, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner with friends and went to bed early. The next day was the psycho-Homecoming day. We started with an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting – oops, that one was our idea. Then a tour of her dorm, a cookout at her fiancĂ©’s house and a football game. After that, shopping (for the girls), hunting club (for the guys), and another cookout with all the Midwestern comfort food we could eat. Whew. (You know the really sad truth? The picture at right is 3 yrs. old...because I was so busy on the trip, I forgot to take a new picture! Yikes!) The third day - thanks to a divinely appointed dead battery in our daughter’s car - we relaxed in her dorm room and later met our son-in-law-to-be for dinner. But even while we “relaxed,” we checked out websites for the wedding and accomplished a few other tasks.

Accomplished. There it is. Why can’t we JUST relax anymore? We’re in constant motion. Even when our bodies aren’t physically going to the next location, our minds are shifting to the next idea or project – or cable channel or website. So, here’s my question. Do you picture God as busy, too? Surely, our all-knowing, omnipresent God must sit grandly on His Throne barking commands and casting lightning bolts amid the frantic, praise-paced heavenly frenzy around Him. No? Probably not. I’m guessing the omnipotent/all-powerful aspect of His character is a significant time-saver, huh? But what happens when God inserts Himself into the hustle and bustle of human existence? He did it as Jesus, but He did it earlier for Abraham…and for Sarah.

Gen. 18:1-2 – “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” (emphasis added)
  • Abraham was resting during the heat of the day – smart move! Then God shows up, and all sense seems to leave him. He begins hurrying. Why? Can we not serve God without over-doing it? Is the hurrying to prove our worth? To win God’s approval or favor? To look busy? Serving is great, but serving with sense and right motives is better.

Gen. 18:3-5 – “[Abraham] said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way--now that you have come to your servant.’ ‘Very well,’ they answered, ‘do as you say.’” (emphasis added)

  • It appears to me that Abraham is hurrying because he’s afraid God will leave if he doesn’t DO something to make Him stay. Trying to manipulate God with our service never works. We can’t know Abraham’s heart. Perhaps his motives were pure. But God’s response is clear. He not only allows Abraham’s hurried service, but “do as you say” seems to bind Abraham like a vow.

Gen. 18:6-8 – “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.’ Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.” (emphasis added)

  • It’s right there in black and white. Abraham had servants. D-E-L-E-G-A-T-E. Abraham wasted valuable time scurrying to prepare a meal for God, when he could have been feasting on God’s presence.

Gen. 18:9-15 – “‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘There, in the tent,’ he said. Then the LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.’” (emphasis added)

  • Sarah’s QUICK response to God’s promise is a cynical laugh, and her QUICK response to God’s conviction was a fearful lie. We can’t live quickly and then expect to respond rightly, when a relationship with God requires introspection, patience and trust.

Lord, I want to live in the rhythm of heaven here on earth. I don’t have Your ability to know all, to be everywhere at once or to have power over all things; however, Your Spirit does dwell inside me. Teach me to slow down to Your tempo, not march to the clattering world around me. Help me to rest IN You, not work FOR You.

Monday, October 05, 2009

REALIGNING RELATIONSHIPS

I’m not sure who said this, but I usually give credit for all great family quotes to James Dobson. Here’s the gist. “The best way husbands can love their children is to love their wives.” Now, speaking as a wife, I think that’s fabulous advice! A loving couple in Roy’s first ministry position performed a heavenly adoption of our children and became Grandpa and Grandma Johnson on the first day we met them. Not because our kids were angels, mind you, but because this precious middle-aged couple knew their young associate pastor needed time to tend his marriage. They often took our girls for weekend vacations (like Emily's boat-ride with G-pa at left), leaving Roy and I time to catch our breath and actually look into each other’s eyes. Today, over fifteen years later, G-pa and G-ma J. are still an intricate part of our family. They made it possible for Roy and I to better love our children because we took the time to love each other well.

But here's a question for you. Are children the only priority-buster in a marriage relationship? What about those couples whose children have grown and gone, or couples whose lives are filled with blessings other than children? Lots of things in our world compete with our spouse’s rightful place after God in our hearts. Maintaining the husband/wife priority relationship remains a key to God’s blessing. It’s as true for us as it was for Abraham…

Gen. 17:15-16 – “God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’” (emphasis added)
  • The name “[Sarai] appears to be derived from the same [Hebrew] root as Israel…‘She that strives,’ a contentious person…”[1] I’m getting the impression that our lady Sarah might not have been easy to live with, and let’s face it. Relationships are hard. Marriage. Friendship. Sooner or later, in any long-term relationship, the person on the other end disappoints us. In this instance, God is elaborating on a twenty-five year-old promise and vows to change the very nature of Abraham’s wife in the process. Would your faith be big enough to believe that?

Gen. 17:17-18 – “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’”

  • I always thought Sarah was the first one to laugh at God’s promise, but it was Abraham who first laughed to himself. And then his audible response revealed a sad truth. In suggesting God give the promise to Ishmael, Abraham was taking away God’s promise to Sarah. Abraham would rather give it to the son of a slave than bless his first love with a son and kings. His heart had become attached to the here and now because of his disappointment in waiting for God’s best.

Gen. 17:19-22 – “Then God said, ‘Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.’ When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.” (emphasis added)

  • “Yes, but your wife Sarah…” God is reminding Abraham that it is his relationship with Sarah that must come first, that as Abraham is faithful in his marriage, God will work out His plan for BOTH of Abraham’s sons. Faithful tending of the vine reaps a plentiful harvest of fruit. This concept applies to more than just marriage relationships. It’s the core issue of our walk with Jesus as well.

Gen. 17:23-27 – “On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. And every male in Abraham's household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.”

  • Though Abraham could not pass down God’s Covenant Promise to Ishmael, father and son shared a moment of surrender and obedience on this day that Isaac would never know at his infant circumcision. Even when it seems God has removed a blessing, still He gives some precious gem to treasure – no matter how painful the circumstance – if we’re willing to seek it out.

Lord, keeping relationships in proper priority is difficult on so many levels. Time management. Heart management. Sanity management. They all seem to boil up in a cauldron of despair…until I get the most important relationship in place. Show me how to put You back into the #1 spot, the Throne of my heart. I want You there. I need You there.

[1] http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T7644

Monday, September 28, 2009

ANYTHING BUT THAT!

When Roy taught high school and our girls were growing up, summer break was a time of great anticipation, a time everyone looked forward to…well almost everyone. I saw summer break differently than my family. My husband knew better than to utter the two words that would land him in the death pits of slavery. But after our girls finished second and fifth grades, they didn’t understand that saying, “I’m b-o-r-e-d,” would drive mommy to desperation. When they first declared their dull existence, I went easy on them. I restricted their TV watching to one hour a day and created a little game by which they could “purchase” more time by earning monopoly bucks through chores and reading. That worked for two summers. But the third summer…well, let’s just say all our memories are crystal clear. Their schedule went as follows. SHOWER HOUR: one hour for breakfast, clothing and primping (they were in that middle school mirror mode). FLOWER HOUR: one hour of weeding flower beds and garden, harvesting, cleaning vegetables, etc. BODY POWER HOUR: one hour of outdoor activity (for middle school girls, this was sweaty torture). BRAIN POWER HOUR: reading, library (this did NOT include computer games). And their all-time favorite – SCOUR HOUR: one hour a day of cleaning the house! Oh yes, for five hours every day, five days a week, they were mine. And guess what? The other hours of their day, they never said they were bored or asked me to suggest an activity. Why? Because they were afraid I might think of another “HOUR” to add! (As you can see by the pic above, they have recovered from the trauma of that summer.)

When our kids ask and ask and ask, sometimes we finally give them an answer. Then they say, “Oh no! Anything but that!” I wonder if Abram felt that way after he badgered God and then received the covenant of circumcision…

Gen. 17:1-2 – “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’”
  • Most of us hate waiting, and Abram had waited twenty-four years on Canaan’s soil. God finally tells him to DO something: “Walk blamelessly before God.” Yikes! Couldn’t we start with, “Don’t bite your fingernails?” The next time you get tired of waiting, remember the waiting may be preparation for the responsibility to come.

Gen. 17:3-8 – “Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called AbramB[exalted father]; your name will be Abraham,C[father of many] for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.’”

  • God outlines in detail His part of the Covenant, Abram’s part (vs. 9-14) and even Sarai’s part (vs. 15-16). Imagine for just a moment that you’re Abraham, hearing these promises about you and your family in God’s grand plan. Realize that you, like Abraham, are part of God’s bigger plan.
  1. God changed Abram’s name – his very essence – from exalted father to father of many.
  2. God promised kings and nations to spring from Abraham’s seed.
  3. God promised this covenant would be everlasting – extending to Abraham’s descendants.
  4. God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Gen. 17:9-14 – “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.’”

  • Isn’t every human tendency to DO something instead of standing idly by and waiting? After waiting for twenty-four years, no matter how frightening, how painful, how embarrassing, how shameful to their culture – Abraham was ready to obey, when God gave him the directive. If God had instructed Abram to be circumcised twenty-four years ago, would he have been ready to obey then? Only God knows when our hearts are ready to submit to the blessings He longs to bestow on us.

Lord, Your timing is always perfect, though I seldom like it or understand it in the moment. Thank You for waiting, and for making me wait, until my heart is ready to receive all Your blessings – no matter what the cost.

Monday, September 21, 2009

BLAME GAME – ROUND #2

Why do I feel better when it’s not my fault? No matter what “IT” is, my sigh of relief is palpable when I discover someone else is to blame. How awful is that? How common is that? As parents, we run the gamut of great decisions and colossal mistakes. When our kids grow up, we can say with gusto, “I’ll pay for the first ten counseling sessions because I’ve undoubtedly screwed you up.” Well, one of our early parental blunders happened when we assigned blame incorrectly. Trina, our oldest and strong-willed child, was a precocious four-year-old at the time. Emily, the toe-headed princess who was often big sister’s partner in crime, was two. Papa Roy discovered that his grandfather’s antique pocket-watch had been taken from his desk drawer. Now, who do you think might have done such a thing? The Andrews’ parental unit assigned blame to the elder daughter. Amid Trina’s repeated and tearful denials, Emily stood by somberly, while Daddy reached for the paddle. “I won’t spank you hard if you’ll just tell me where you put the watch,” he said. “But I didn’t!” came the reply, and POP! Paddle to butt cheeks, and the fight was over. Well, not quite. A siren-like whine erupted from the little blonde in the corner. “I took it, Daddy! It was so pretty, and Casey (the barn cat) and I were swinging and it fell in the gwass.” Ugh. (The picture above was a common sight in those days - Trina with her puppy and Emily with the barn cat - swinging back and forth, as the cat and dog glared at each other)

Four-year-old butt cheeks do not forget an unjust spanking, and to this day, the Andrews’ parental unit is reminded of the undue punishment dished out on that dark day in Muncie, Indiana. Blame can be a hurtful thing – sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually….

Gen. 16:1-4a – “Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.”
  • Sarai blamed God for her barrenness, and I suppose the Creator of Life is ultimately responsible. The deeper issue is Sarai’s impatience with God’s promise and her busy-body solution. Have you ever wondered if Sarai offered Hagar to discover if it was her womb or Abram’s seed that was barren? Shame on me for considering such a diabolical plot. We don’t know Sarai’s heart at the beginning of the process, but when she discovered there was no one left to blame but her own barren womb, she became an emotional time-bomb.

Gen. 16:4b-6 – “When [Hagar] knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.’ ‘Your servant is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.’ Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.”

  • Hurt people hurt people. Sarai was hurting, and she blamed the one she loved most. Though it was Hagar who acted pridefully toward her mistress, Sarai aimed her venom at Abram…and called on the LORD to agree with her! Unfortunately, Abram’s wisdom seems to have gone on vacation, and he caves to his wife’s fury.

Gen. 16:7-9 – “The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I'm running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered. Then the angel of the LORD told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’”

  • Hagar blames Sarai with no mention of her own snarky attitude. When we enter “fight or flight” mode, though we are in a heightened physical response state, our emotions can override our five senses by making them extremely selective. We begin to see, feel, hear, taste and smell only those things that our emotions tell us are true.

Gen. 16:10-14 – “The angel added [the LORD’S words], ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.’ The angel of the LORD also said to [Hagar]: ‘You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.’ She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.”

  • Blame stops when we finally realize God SEES us and our circumstances thoroughly. When God asked for Hagar’s explanation, He wasn’t seeking information. He was checking her heart – and it was ugly. When the penetrating gaze of God’s inspection sees through our blame-shifting, who can ever find fault again? Why accuse? God already sees – me and everyone else. So Hagar returned to bear Abram a son because she had full confidence that God was watching. Not only did she realize SHE couldn’t get away with blame before God (the only place it matters), but neither could anyone else!

Lord, I am utterly naked before You, exposed completely, not a shadow of blame to hide behind. My life, my attitude, my heart are ultimately my choices – no one’s fault but my own. I bear them before You and ask you to help me keep them free of blame before You and others.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

BY WORD OR PROMISE

How much importance do you place on keeping your word? Would you sacrifice your health to fulfill a promise? Would you give up important family time to carry out a job commitment? When you look a person in the eye and say, “I’ll be there,” do they believe you? Or do they ask for proof? As I read God’s Word today, the thought occurred to me: What if no one believed anyone at their word? What if everyone asked for proof? What if my husband comes home and asks, “What’s for dinner?” I say, “Hot dogs and Mac’n’Cheese.” What if he said, “Prove it”? After I slapped him into next week, I’d scramble for the hotdog wrapper and Kraft blue box and show him the proof. Then he’d get to cook supper. What if with every question and answer we had to take an oath? “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye…” I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting anywhere near my eye with a needle – I don’t care how certain I am about a statement or promise. Well, here’s one more question for you. If God tells you the same thing over and over again, do you really need Him to prove it? My doubt says I do. Abram’s doubt said, “Prove it.” Our humanness has a very hard time BELIEVING God’s divine promises.

Gen. 15:1-6 – “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’ Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (emphasis added)
  • Sometimes, when God speaks, it’s simply hard to believe what He’s saying. Abram is involved in a common discourse.
  1. God promises
  2. Human replies with a “BUT I have a doubt…”
  3. God answers the doubt (using an object lesson)
  4. Human makes a decision – low and behold, Abram believes God! Woohoo! And God graciously considers Abram in right-standing with Him.

Gen. 15:7-8 – “He also said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’” (emphasis added)

  • The healthy divine/human dialogue begins again:
  1. God promises – “I brought you (Ab.) out of Ur…”
  2. Abram hijacks the promise/doubt/answer/believe dialogue with a “prove it to me” reply.

SO BEGINS GOD’S ARDUOUS PROVE IT PROCESS:
Gen. 15:9 – “So the LORD said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.’”

  • When we ask God to prove Himself, the process involves our sacrifice. A heifer would have born calves for Abram, a goat provided milk and a single ram would have bred many sheep in his flock. Each was three years old, prime production age. This was an expensive lesson.

Gen. 15:10-11 – “Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.”

  • In Scripture, birds sometimes represent satanic activity. These “birds of prey” attacking Abram’s attempt to discern God’s promise illustrate Satan’s repeated attempts to interfere with God’s communication to His people. If the father of lies can confuse the lines of divine communication, the resulting chaos can rob confirmation of God’s good promises and intentions for the future.

Gen. 15:12-16 – “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’”

  • God’s proof sometimes bears ugly truths that we could otherwise have been spared if we’d simply taken Him at His Word and lived life one step at a time.

Gen. 15:17-21 – “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates-- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.’”

  • God’s promise was given the physical sign of a smoking pot and the Promised Land was for the first time given physical boundaries. In previous mention, God simply told Abram all the land he could see would be his, but when pressed to qualify His promise, God gave Abram the specifics he required in the fiery darkness of physical proof.

Lord, in those circumstances when my heart, like Abram’s, needs a special revelation of Your proof, have mercy on me. Let me participate in the process humbly and with discernment, realizing that in asking for that proof I may experience dark revelations or limitations I hadn’t expected. Remind me to remain thankful for Your proof – however it comes – and trust in Your grace and goodness to provide the best for me in every circumstance.

Monday, September 07, 2009

LIFE AND DEATH BY ASSOCIATION

I remember many sleepless nights, fretting over our children’s choice of friends. From toddler play time in the church nursery until they become adults in the workplace – our children’s associations form and shape the people they become. Perhaps the most important decision of a person’s life is his/her spouse, but as all married folks can attest, we don’t just marry a person. We marry a family. Yep, with that blushing bride or dashing groom come the in-laws…or the out-laws, depending on your particular circumstance. Imagine this scene. 1984, a young and bold Roy Andrews calls his grandfather in southern Indiana, an elderly and conservative WWII vet, to announce his impending marriage. “Pa, guess what? I’m getting married. Her name is Mesu Cooley.” Now, if you had fought against Japanese soldiers in WWII and lived a relatively secluded life in the hills of southern Indiana, would the name Mesu Cooley be of concern to you? Pa’s response? “She’s American, ain’t she?” You see, Pa was worried about his grandson’s associations. By the time the picture at the left was taken (two+ years later), I can assure you his first grandchild calmed any fears he might have had in the beginning.

Now, when my mother named me, she didn't for one moment consider Roy’s grandfather’s opinion. In fact, when my mother chose Maralasu as my legal name, she had no idea that my toddler pronunciation “Mesu” would be the nickname by which I’d become known. I’m guessing she also never imagined the crossed-eyed glances of substitute teachers, when they tried to pronounce my given name. When my mom chose my unique and intricate name, she did it because she loved me enough to give me something beautiful. We make choices everyday that unwittingly affect life down-the-road…sometimes wise, sometimes not so wise. Lot’s choice – not so wise. Abram – very wise.

Gen. 14:1-12 – “At this time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled. In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazazon Tamar. Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar--four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.” (emphasis added)
  • When Lot chose the beautiful green valley and bustling city life of Sodom, he didn’t check out the lease, didn’t check for liens on his deed. Sodom had been straining under the tyranny of Old King K for twelve years, and Lot got caught in the shackles of someone else’s fight.

Gen. 14:13-16 – “One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”

  • Abram’s alliances had been built on integrity and trust. So much so that even when the odds were stacked against them (318 men of Ab’s household against King K’s five king-alliance and their armies), his friends supported him and became a part of the Lord’s victory.

Gen. 14:17-24 – “After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, “I made Abram rich.” I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.’”

  • Two kings came out to greet Abram after his victory. Melchizedek praised God and blessed Abram, and Abram offered a tithe to God’s representative on earth – a spiritual commitment, a bond uniting them not only with wealth but at heart. The king of Sodom met Abram with a demand and a bribe – a promise of wealth with a lifetime of strings. Thankfully, with godly insight, Abram cut him off.

Lord, I feel like I need hind-sight, near-sight and far-sight. It’s no wonder I walk into walls with all the directions I need to consider! Only by Your Spirit can I avoid some of the pitfalls and cut some of the strings. Help me to walk wisely in Your ways, listening for Your voice rather than jumping at the first sparkly thing that offers quick joy. Give me Your wisdom, Lord.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Familiar Stranger

One of the greatest blessings about our move to the Northwest has been rubbing elbows with new and established authors. The gals in the picture are two new friends and new authors.

Christina Berry (right) has just sold the first copy of her debut novel, Familiar Stranger (Moody Publishers) to fellow author, Camille Eide. I'm planning to take a break from my biblical fiction reading to spend a cozy weekend with Christina's book. Listen to this cover copy:
Craig Littleton has decided to end his marriage with his wife, Denise. But an accident lands him in the ICU with fuzzy memories. As Denise helps him remember who he is, she uncovers some dark secrets. Will this trauma create a fresh start? Or has his deceit destroyed the life they built together?
Yikes! I gotta know about this Craig Littleton guy! The other fun thing about Christina is her transparent, godly heart. I asked if I could share with my blog family a few words from her e-mail about the day she received her first box of Familiar Stranger books on her doorstep. Here's how she described her feelings:
"What a rush of emotions to open that box from Moody! Truthfully, I was in shock for an hour or so. As I called a few family members and friends, the tears came, along with a deep gratitude to God. Whom am I that He would bless me with a book? An urge to offer some type of thanks sacrifice gripped me, but I've yet to decide what that will be. Seeing my parents cry at the dedication was also a high point. It took a decade of writing and 42 rejections to find the right time and place for The Familiar Stranger. [I'm] Praising God from Whom all blessings flow, Christina."
I feel so blessed that the Lord has surrounded me with amazing people like Christina Berry - talented, godly and real. If you have a chance for a little leisurely reading, curl up with The Familiar Stranger.